Bringing the Attitudes of Mindfulness into our lives Mindfulness does not just stay within the Meditation practice itself. We need to bring our whole being to the process and to our lives. I like to think of the attitudes of Mindfulness as the 'soil' that mindfulness and our personal self grows. Without cultivating these attitudes, mindfulness can be mechanical and a means to an end. According to Jon Kabat Zinn, there are 9 attitudes that can be helpful to cultivate Mindfulness into our lives; Acceptance, Non-Judging, Patience, Beginners Mind, Trust, Non-Striving, Letting Be/Letting Go, Kindness & Compassion. This is where we bring Mindfulness into our lives in a deep way beyond the ‘Meditation Mat’ so to speak as we are able to live Mindfully and embrace Mindfulness into all our lives, not just in Meditation practice.
Acceptance Acceptance means looking at your current experiences and acknowledging it for what it is, rather than falling into judgement. Some people like to use the word ‘acknowledge’ instead of acceptance as this feels more comfortable to manage situations that we have no control over, whether we agree with it or not. Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation. Acceptance is understanding what we can control and what we can’t control. When we bring an attitude of acceptance to our situations, we are less likely to have strong emotions around the situations as we are not fighting with ourselves with frustration and irritation for something to be different than it is.
We can bring acceptance to our emotional experiences as well. If we feel frustrated or annoyed, and then bring an attitude of acceptance to this emotion, we are more likely to be able to pass through the emotion, rather than staying stuck in it, trying to feel something else. We can acknowledge the difficult emotion, notice where we feel this in our bodies, notice thoughts and allow these to be there. We are more likely to move past this feeling when we bring this attitude to the experience.
You may have also practiced an attitude of acceptance to a difficulty in your life. It doesn’t mean you like it, or have invited it, you may have noticed how helpful it is to just bring acceptance to something has happened that we may not be able to change. We can also bring an attitude of acceptance to our Meditation practice. An example of this to accept how you are feeling in the meditation, accepting that you have thoughts, accepting that on a particular day that you may not feel settled or calm and that is ok. We can just bring mindful awareness to what is happening right now without judging it.
‘Acceptance is a very active process, there is nothing passive about it, it’s not passive resignation but an act of recognition that things are the way they are… Acceptance doesn’t mean we can’t work to change the world, or circumstances, but it means that unless we accept things as they are, we will try to force things to be as they are not and that can create an enormous amount of difficulty’. Jon Kabat-Zinn
Non-Judging How often do we judge an experience as either good or bad, or seeing if the current moment fits with what we expected or wanted? We tend to look at experiences through a lens of ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘ok’ and if the experience does not match what we think is ‘good’, then we can dismiss the whole experience as valuable. This takes us away from the current experience, the moment by moment unfolding experience that is full of rich experiences that we may ordinarily miss if we label it too early.
This doesn’t mean we are being ‘judgmental’ or a ‘judgemental’ person, it simply means that we are doing what humans do well, which is quickly assessing a situation to see if it’s safe and comfortable and whether it matches our goals and expectations.
When we are mindful and in the moment of our experiences, we can notice what is happening for what it is right now. When we are mindful, we can let go of what the experience needs to be and notice just what is happening. The same is true for when we are practising the formal practice of Mindfulness, the meditations. If it is not bringing us the joy we were hoping, or inner peace or relaxation, then we can easily give up and think it’s not working, or is not right for us, or it’s not effective enough. This is missing the whole point of the meditation, which is to build awareness of what is happening now.
We can also judge ourselves in the meditation experience thinking that we are doing it ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. All we need to do is just be aware, to notice, to feel through the senses, to observe our thoughts – all without judgement. ’Generosity is another quality which, like patience, letting go, non-judging, and trust, provides a solid foundation for mindfulness practice’ Jon Kabat-Zinn
Patience It takes time to develop a Mindfulness practice, and this is an ongoing process for life. There is no time we actually ‘get it right’. It is an ongoing process and using patience is helpful. Patience means accepting that things unfold in their own time.
Patience is a fundamental quality of our Mindfulness practice as the full benefits sometimes don’t reveal themselves immediately. We can even feel frustration or boredom waiting to feel calm. However, the more we practice, the more we can let the benefits unfold gently in their own time.
Patience means we need to accept that some things take time and to be aware of frustrations that may develop along the way. Personal development and increasing our wellbeing will not happen overnight, but bit by bit with more practice we will feel the full benefits of the practice.
Patience also requires bringing kindness to ourselves and acknowledging that things unfold in their own time. We can truly enjoy and embody the present moment by not rushing things which involves understanding and accepting that things must unfold in their own time.
‘Patience is a form of wisdom. It demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time.’
Beginners Mind Cultivating a Beginners Mind means just noticing like a child what your mind is thinking, or body is feeling like, willing to see things as if for the first time. We can let our perceptions, beliefs, and expectations about a particular situation prevent us from seeing it for what it really us. As each day and each moment is different to the other, using a beginner’s mind allows us to see the nuances of life rather than living through a veil of judgements or expectations.
I like to think of a Beginner’s Mind of seeing things for the first time just like a child does. We only need to study a child for a few moments to see their joy, their curiosity and innocence about a situation, an object, a person, or something in nature. They don’t have a lifetime of experiences to base their experiences on, and they are looking at things with completely fresh eyes and a new experience. ‘In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s, there are few.’ Jon Kabat-Zinn
We can try to use a Beginners Mind during day-to-day activities including being around other people. Try to see each moment, each activity, and each encounter as a new experience, seeing it for what it is right now rather than what have expected it to be. We can also use a Beginners Mind during our meditation practice. Come to each meditation experience with fresh eyes, just noticing what it is without seeing it for what we expect it to be or want it to be or what we think it will mostly be like due to our past experiences.
‘The richness of present-moment experience is the richness of life itself. Too often we let our thinking and our beliefs about what we “know” prevent us from seeing things as they really are. We tend to take the ordinary for granted and fail to grasp the extra-ordinariness of the ordinary. To see the richness of the present moment, we need to cultivate what has been called “beginner’s mind,” a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time.’ Jon Kabat-Zinn
Trust Using the attitude of Trust in Mindfulness, means trusting that the experience of meditation will just unfold gently. We remain open with patience that benefits or outcomes or the experience will just unfold as it should. During meditation we can trust that what is unfolding, is exactly as it is supposed to be, even if it doesn’t appear to be ‘right’ or ‘perfect’. Just as we trust our body takes care of its vital functions like breathing and keeping our heart beating, we can trust the ability of our mind to heal itself when given the opportunity to do so with Mindfulness. At times we may need a leap of faith to start or continue a Mindfulness practice, trying to gain the benefits we so desperately seek.
We can also use the attitude of trust in living Mindfully day to day by responding to events, rather than reacting to events based on our previous experiences. Trusting what it is you notice now, what you feel now rather than what you thought you should feel or experience. This quality of awareness helps you see for yourself, from your own experience, what is true or untrue.
This means to trust the experience right now. We can also embody the attitude of trust in making our own decisions, trusting our feelings and intuition, trusting making decisions based on our own value system rather than look outside of ourselves for guidance. We can cultivate a deep trust in ourselves and our own deepest nature and cultivate a deep trust in life.
‘Developing a basic trust in yourself and your feelings is an integral part of meditation training. It is far better to trust in your intuition and your own authority, even if you make some “mistakes” along the way, than always to look outside of yourself for guidance. If at any time something doesn’t feel right to you, why not honor your feelings? Why should you discount them or write them off as invalid because some authority or some group of people think or say differently? This attitude of trusting yourself and your own basic wisdom and goodness is very important in all aspects of the meditation practice.’ Jon Kabat-Zinn
Non-Striving When we are trying not to meditate in a certain way, we can just allow ourselves to be in the present. With this quality of awareness, there is no grasping, aversion to change, or movement away from whatever arises in the moment.
Non striving means, we are not goal-oriented, remaining unattached to the outcome of the Mindfulness practice. Without being focused on the benefits or goal of Mindfulness, we can just be in the experience of the Mindfulness. As soon as we are focused on what we are going to achieve while practising Mindfulness, we lose the whole idea in the first place – just to be present.
The benefits will come naturally by just being present. If we try to change the present to feel or experience something we are not experiencing, we move out of present moment focus to future focused thinking which often creates a discrepancy between what we are experiencing and what we want.
We can also live our mindful lives embodying the attitude of non-striving. This does not mean we do not have goals or plans but we don’t remain stuck in them, entirely focused on these to the expense of other things that also really matter. Living with a non-striving attitude, helps us to relax and enjoy each moment more. As we live in such an outcome based and goal-oriented society, this can be difficult to cultivate and takes a lot of effort and practice. We can be challenged by society’s expectations to be living a certain way, achieving things that may not necessarily be meaningful to us and being stuck in succeeding rather than just living and being.
“Non-doing simply means letting things be and allowing them to unfold in their own way.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
Letting Be / letting Go Using the attitude of Letting Be and Letting Go means to be just being present without wanting to hold on to positive emotions and get rid of difficult emotions. It can also be when we let go and put aside the tendency to elevate and hold on to some experiences and try hard to reject others. With this quality of awareness, you can simply let things be as they are, with no need to try to let go of whatever is present.
Letting Go and Letting Be brings us to a place of letting things be just as they are without any attachment of how things should be or trying for them to be different. This does not mean detachment however, but instead embracing reality just as it is.
You may have noticed when practising Mindfulness that when we start paying attention to what is happening in the mind and the body, we find there are feelings we don’t want to have, thoughts we are trying to get rid of and body sensations we don’t want to focus on. We try hard to get rid of these getting frustrated along the way.
Letting go is allowing what is there to be there, just observing it for what it is. We can let go of wanting the experience to be a certain way or feel a certain way. We can also find in Meditation we feel pleasant feelings and want to hang on to these but again just observing and feeling these for what they are, without trying to hand on to these.
We can also use letting Go and Letting Be in our lives when we need to recognise the reality of some situations. This is different to giving up or not trying to make positive changes. It’s about doing all we can and recognising that some things we can’t change and accepting that. We then let of attachment to the situation having to be a certain way. This may remind you of the serenity prayer: Grant to us the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot be changed, Courage to change that which can be changed, and wisdom to know the one from the other.
“Letting go means just what it says. It’s an invitation to cease clinging to anything—whether it be an idea, a thing, an event, a particular time, or view, or desire. It is a conscious decision to release with full acceptance into the stream of present moments as they are unfolding. To let go means to give up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome which comes out of allowing things to be as they are without getting caught up in your attraction to or rejection of them, in the intrinsic stickiness of wanting, of liking and disliking. It’s akin to letting your palm open to unhand something you have been holding on to.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
Kindness, Compassion & Generosity Practising kindness towards yourself in and out of meditation. Compassion can be defined as the ability to empathise with and feel the pain and suffering of others and of ourselves. This is also strengthened by wanting to relieve the pain for others and ourselves. Mindfulness is not just about paying attention in a certain way. It is also the attitudes in which we pay attention, one of them being kind to ourselves along the way. Kind to our own feelings and suffering. Compassionate towards ourselves for how we are feeling at any certain time without harsh judgment or comparisons with others, or the way it ‘should’ be.
We can bring kindness to our wandering minds. Bring kindness to our feelings of restlessness or physical pain or discomfort. We bring patience, kindness and compassion to ourselves when we don’t feel good, knowing that it takes time to build a practice and can take time to feel all the full benefits of Mindfulness.
“A good place to start is with yourself. See if you can give yourself gifts that may be true blessings, such as self-acceptance, or some time each day with no purpose. Practice feeling deserving enough to accept these gifts without obligation—to simply receive from yourself, and from the universe.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
The Autonomic Nervous System is our body’s automatic control mechanism for a wide variety of bodily functions. It regulates our heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate (when we are not trying to change it), pupillary dilation, urination, and sexual arousal. This is also the system that activates and deactivates – our fight, flight, freeze or shut down response. All these bodily functions operate almost entirely unconsciously.
Our Automatic Nervous System can be divided into two areas – the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system known as the ‘Stress System’ initiates the flight and fight response, increases alertness, energy, blood pressure, heart rate and our breathing rate.
The Parasympathetic nervous system which can also be called the ‘Rest and Digest’ system, decreases our alertness, blood pressure and our heart rate. This system also helps our body to digest food, calm us down and relax the body. Some people may describe the sympathetic system as the accelerator of the body and the parasympathetic as the brake.
What does this have to do with Mindfulness and Meditation?
Research shows that meditation soothes the nerves in our body. The sympathetic nervous system is greatly affected by meditation as it reduces the effects of anxiety, tension, fatigue, and stress. The Parasympathetic nervous system is activated when we practice Mindfulness as it slows down our heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure.
We can spend our whole day in sympathetic arousal, feeling like we have no capacity to switch this off, being stuck in this spiralling stress cycle. If this is our day-to-day way of operating, we will end up with an overactivation of the SNS which can lead to a general and prolonged state of SNS dominance.
Mindfulness activates the Parasympathetic nervous system in many ways. Firstly, when we are focused just on the present and usually just on one thing, it helps to limit activity in the brain’s neural network, the Default Mode Network in the brain, where our brains wander and tend to think of worries, past and future. The brain loves to think of and ‘go to’ to any problems or worries we have because of our ‘negativity bias’.
Secondly when we focus on our senses, the body and often the breath, this usually slows down our breathing. When we slow down our breathing, we give messages to the brain that it is safe to relax which in turn turns off the sympathetic flight or fight system.
The more we practice being Mindful, the more we train the brain and body to switch off the Sympathetic nervous system and to switch into the Parasympathetic Nervous System. This is immensely powerful and has a huge impact on the quality of our lives.
According to the world-famous author of Minding the Body, Mending the Mind, Dr. Borysenko, meditation teaches us just how important it is to regularly activate the body’s natural "relaxation response" – training our minds through meditation so that stress responses simply can’t take over, perpetually maintaining our mental/emotional health and general well-being.
Deep breathing and the Parasympathetic nervous system
Although nearly all of the PNS system is unconscious and operates automatically, we can change the activation of the SNS to the PNS simply with our breath. This is one important function we do have control over!
All we need is 3 deep breaths - three deep ‘in’ breaths and three deep ‘out’ breaths.
The inhale breath stimulates our sympathetic nervous system which increases our heart rate. The out breath stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, decreasing our heart rate. So, what we are aiming for is to have more of the parasympathetic system working than the sympathetic which is why we try to extend the exhale. This affects what is called the Heart Rate Variability.
Regular Mindfulness practice improves our ability to understand and use emotions effectively. The more we are aware of our emotional state, the more we have the choice to manage these states. We begin over time to notice the subtleties and nuances of emotions and feeling states. The more we practice being Mindful of our inner landscape, the more we can recognise feelings as they arise. We can then bring a healthy balance to it, not allowing the emotions to overwhelm us, dismissing it or being afraid of it.
According to Peerayuth Charoensukmongkol (2015), Mindfulness helps manifest emotional intelligence in three major ways:
It improves your ability to comprehend your own emotions.
It helps you learn how to recognize the emotions of other people around you.
It strengthens your ability to govern and control your emotions. It can be difficult however to manage our strong emotions.
This takes practice, awareness and a dedication to personal development which continues all through our lives. How do you manage your own strong emotions? Do you embrace them (which can be hard !) or do you dismiss them, distract yourself or diminish the feeling? Think about for a moment what gets in the way of just being with your strong emotions.
Why is it that we find it hard to connect to strong emotions at times? We can judge and resist the emotions for a range of reasons such as:
Not feeling safe
Feeling guilty for feeling the emotion
Have a belief that we should not be feeling this way
One way to turn towards difficult emotions is to notice how it feels in the body. This is different to analysing why we feel a certain way or playing over the events in our minds of what happened to trigger the emotion.
Turning towards difficult emotions means just noticing with curiosity and non-judgement. How am I feeling in my body right now? What can I notice? Is it changing or staying the same? Is there just one sensation or a few? What is the quality of the sensation?
It can be helpful to recognise that the emotion you are feeling is only a temporary state and not your total self. If you feel completely overwhelmed by an emotion, bring your attention to your breath, to your body and focus on what is happening now with the body. This helps to be grounded in the experience.
Riding the waves of emotion
As Jon Kabat-Zinn says ‘You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf’. This is what we are aiming to do – surf the strong emotions. Imagine standing in front of a rough ocean with large waves coming towards you. You can stand there and try to stop the waves coming at you and dumping you, or you can turn around and surf the waves in. The waves may be large and daunting, but we know that we are more likely to have a smoother ride by body surfing them in rather than being dumped.
“Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. Let go of the labels. Just feel what you are feeling, all the while cultivating moment-to-moment awareness, riding the waves of "up" and "down," "good" and "bad," weak" and "strong," until you see that they are all inadequate to fully describe your experience. Be with the experience itself. Trust in your deepest strength of all: to be present, to be wakeful.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
Self-validation is being able to accept your own feelings, thoughts, and internal experience. This does not necessarily mean that all your thoughts or feelings may be justified but we can validate how we feel at that time. If we judge our feeling state or feel ashamed for feeling emotions, this will only increase the emotional distress and discomfort. It is vital to validate both thoughts and emotions to be able to manage them.
Acceptance & Emotions Using the attitude of acceptance is also important to note when managing emotions. As we learnt in the Peaceful Kids Training, using acceptance is extremely helpful in managing a difficult emotional experience. If we judge the experience and try to feel a different way that what we are, we usually make the emotional experience worse over time. Accepting that you have the emotion and knowing its ok to feel that emotion can help in managing it.
‘When you get emotional (feel emotional, not necessarily yet acting out) or have an overload of pressure, there are few to no neural transmissions to the prefrontal cortex. You lose the ability to think rationally or logically. Emotions cause physiological changes.’ Dr. Daniel Siegal, M.D.
There are some things within our control and some outside of our control. Knowing what the difference is can make a big difference to managing our thoughts as well as how we manage difficulties that come our way.
So, what’s in our control? Our attitudes, desires, opinions, what information we read, how productive we are, what we eat, which friends we spend time with, handling feelings, self-talk, how we respond to stress, our time given to self-care, time spent online, how we treat others and where we use our energy.
What’s outside of our control? The family and country we were born in to, the weather, natural disasters, accidents, other people’s behaviours, other people’s decisions and opinions, the past, life’s events and more.
If we spend time and energy trying to control what we can’t, this only drains us and leaves us feeling frustrated, hopeless, tired, angry, and irritated.
We can however control a great deal including the attitude and perception of situations that happen to us. This includes how we respond and react to the situation. We can also choose to accept a situation that can’t be changed (which doesn’t mean we have to like it). Trying to control or change what isn’t within your control will only drain your energy and leave you in torment.
What you can control is how you perceive a situation, how you react to it, and how you respond.
If we can’t control something, then practising acceptance is a helpful way to manage the difficulty.
Just knowing and identifying what is out of our control, can help to bring more acceptance and less frustration to the current difficulties.
Focus your energies on the things you can do to shape your day to day and future lives by controlling what you can and accepting what you can’t change or control.
Remember that thoughts do control our emotions, so focusing on what we can control will trigger more positive emotions.
Ask yourself 'What matters most to me'? and then focus what you can do about it, not what you cant. Brainstorm the choices you have and take action on them.
Be intentional in how you spend your energy. Don't waste energy on negatives and what is out of your control.
Make a list or draw a circle of what's in your control and what is out of it. Writing this down makes it clear in our mind and helps to stop rumination and fixation. This also gives us a feeling of empowerment rather than staying stuck.
The Default Mode Network is a large network of correlated brain regions which are activated when we are not focused on a particular task where we need focused attention. We can also refer to this part of the mind as the ‘Monkey Mind’.
It is called the ‘Default’ mode because this is what the mind defaults to when it is not engaged or focused on any specific task. This is when we are up in our heads using our imagination, recalling memories, thinking of the intention of others, and daydreaming as well as thinking about the past, the future, our worries, understanding others, or self-reflection. These are all the things we do when we are just ‘thinking’ without any specific goal in mind.
Recent research has begun to detect links between over activity in the DFN with mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. It is important to note however that the DFN is not always negative! We need our minds to wander to access our creativity and imagination. We also need it plan activities and contemplate future activities based on our past experiences. We also want to remember all those important and meaningful memories of our life. The difference here is noticing where our minds are going and be mindful of our thoughts. We can be ‘mindless’ – thinking about things but not realising we are, or be ‘Mindful’ our thoughts, knowing with awareness what our thoughts are.
We also don’t have to always be in the present – firstly this is probably impossible and secondly, we can have a rich creative thinking life, thinking about a whole range of possibilities and ideas. There may be a misunderstanding around Mindfulness, that thinking about things that are not in the present is not helpful. This is not true; however it is important to keep in mind that when our minds do wander, research shows that 87% of the time it elicits a negative emotion as our minds love to worry and connect to anything that could be harmful to protect ourselves.
‘An overactive DMN is highly correlated with negative mood states and certain mental illnesses. The DMN can be simplistically conceptualized as a ruminative network. It directs our awareness to the past and future while largely ignoring the present. And while the DMN can be used responsibly to plan and organize, we must always be wary of its runaway force.’ Matthew Williams 2015, Neuroscience of Mindfulness: Default Mode Network, Meditation, & Mindfulness
What is the Task Positive Network?
The Task Positive Network is a large network of correlated brain regions we use when performing attention demanding tasks or successfully focusing our attention on a specific action. While we are being Mindful or focusing on a task without our minds wandering, we are activating our TPN and therefore reducing activity in the DMN which means our anxious thinking is greatly diminished.
So, a great way to reduce anxious thinking is to activate our TPN! We can intentionally bring our attention to tasks where we require sustained focus. We can also activate it during Meditation. We may sit down to start a mindfulness practice, noticing our minds wandering having our DMN activated, but as we direct our attention to the now through the senses, we activate our TPN.
When we practice Mindfulness and keep on bringing ourselves back to the present moment, we can limit the activation of the DFN. The DFN isn’t necessarily bad and the TPN good, it is a matter of using our DFN in a helpful way and engaging our TPN more so the two live in a healthy balance. When do you find yourself using your TPN? How do you feel during and after?
Take a few moments reflect on when you notice yourself in the Default Mode or the Positive Task focused mode. What activities stimulate both the Default mode and the Positive Task network? How do you feel in each mode? Is there something you could do differently to have more experiences of the Positive Task Network?
Mindfulness has been widely known to improve our overall wellbeing, mental health and our physical health. The benefits of regular Mindfulness practice have been shown to help relieve stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, improve the immune system, improve sleep, improve digestive issues, lessen emotional reactivity, increase positivity, and increase relaxation.
When we are Mindful, we are more likely to savour the joys in life that are often missed when we are ‘mindless’. When we are fully engaged in activities, we switch off our mental chatter, the type of mind wandering where we end up getting caught up in endless worry thoughts. When we are Mindful, we become less pre-occupied with the past and future and more focused on the now. This creates a more relaxed state of mind and body and helps to switch off our stress response. In this state, we are also able to connect with others in a more meaningful way.
Mindfulness is one of the ways parents can reduce the stress of parenting and create calmer households. The calmer our homes, the better everyone can manage and enjoy day to day living.
Formal and Informal Mindfulness
Simply Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment. It means taking a step back and noticing our outer world through our senses and noticing our inner world by being aware of our thoughts and feelings with an attitude of curiosity and non-judgement. It is also the ability to be fully present without being ‘caught up’ in our thoughts and by being present to our immediate environment.
Mindfulness can be experienced in a variety of ways including the formal practice of Mindfulness Meditations or in more informal ways such as being fully present in a day-to-day task. The formal practice of Mindfulness requires making time regularly to deliberately focus on the present moment, often by connecting to body through noticing the breath or senses in the body, Mindful movements or noticing with curiosity our feelings and thoughts.
For children, Mindfulness is an excellent way to provide experiences that enhance their emotional intelligence including self-regulation, impulse control, understanding their emotions, controlling their emotions, and generally become more aware of themselves as a whole person. One of the easiest ways children can access the informal experience of Mindfulness is through free play (off screens). Through play, children are often in the present moment only focusing on what is happening now, rather than being anxious about the future or thinking about the past. This gives children the vital rest and rejuvenation they need each day.
Neuroscience of Mindfulness
Practising Mindfulness literally changes the brain over time. Research shows that Mindfulness has enormous benefits for the brain and in particular, two main areas of the brain – the amygdala and pre-fontal cortex. The amygdala is a primal part of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, and responsible for the first step in a chain of reactions in the body's response to stress. On the other hand, the pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain that helps with concentration, decision-making and awareness. By regularly practising Mindfulness, links between the amygdala and pre-frontal cortex are weakened therefore there is less ‘reactivity’ and more control over emotional responses. Over time there is also a decreased activation in Default Mode Network – the wandering ‘Monkey Mind’ so we ruminate less.
Mindfulness is a path not a tool
If we are constantly in a rush, take on too much, multitask often, or get stuck in the ‘achieving’ mode, then we can have our stress response activated often. If we do not give ourselves times to rest, reflect, and participate in nourishing activities then we are not giving ourselves some necessary time to rejuvenate.
When we are focused on the present moment, this usually switches off our Sympathetic nervous system, the ‘stress response’ and switches on the Parasympathetic nervous system which is our ‘rest and digest’ system. Both formal and informal Mindfulness practices both reduces our stress levels so embracing both practices are beneficial.
Mindfulness goes beyond ‘meditation’. It is a way of living that we are always cultivating and deepening. Mindfulness as a lifelong skill and way of life, we embody throughout our whole lives. This includes regular pauses throughout the day, checking in with yourself and how you are feeling, checking in with your body and body sensations and noticing emotions and feelings.
When we live Mindfully, we can aim to pause before reacting. Taking those few seconds, taking a pause to check in with our bodies, feelings, and thoughts and choose how to respond in any given situation.
Mindfulness can be brought into play at home, where parents are fully present in each moment while playing and interacting with their child. This not only nurtures children’s overall wellbeing but can be a great way for parents to practice being informally Mindful. Mindfulness in the family can strengthen relationships, deepen connections, and increase everyone’s well-being, particularly when we deeply listen to our child.
While playing with children, parents can intentionally put themselves in the ‘Being Mode’ (rather than the ‘Doing Mode’) and connect with their child with Mindful attention. This creates an environment that not only brings more enjoyment but also a time when parents can find out more about their child.
‘Mindful Play’ an opportunity to fill our children’s ‘cups’ when a parent gives full undivided attention to the child, noticing when our minds wander off to our ‘to do’ list or the next task and bring the attention back to the play in the present. Even 10 minutes a day of Mindful Play with our child makes a difference. Some simple Mindfulness techniques to begin Mindfulness at home
Lie down on the floor
Place your ‘Breathing Buddy’ (a soft toy, wheat pack or meditation stone) on your tummy.
When you breathe in observe how your breathing buddy moves up
When you breathe out observe how your breathing buddy moves down.
Slowly breathe in counting to 3.
Breathe our slowly counting to 4 or 5.
Repeat 3 times- close your eyes over after 1 or 2 rounds if this feel comfortable.
Finish with noticing how your body feels, noticing body sensations.
Hold out your hand and spread your fingers.
Using the pointer finger of your other hand trace along each finger, starting from the base of the thumb.
As you rise up each finger take a breath in and then as you go down the other side of the finger breath out.
Pause between each in and out breath.
Breathe in through your nose and then out through your mouth. (Children can also explore just breathing in and out through the nose if this is more comfortable)